One of my kids favorite TV shows is “Dirty Jobs”, and I have to say that what I’ve seen of it, I have liked, because the host Mike Rowe comes across as genuine and inquisitive. He’s there to understand, not to judge. That alone is a wonderful set of values for children to see and explore, regardless of medium.
So, when a friend forwarded a link to Mike Rowe’s TED talk (embedded below) on the merits of hard work, my intellectual curiosity was high. His job is to question assumptions and to get all of us to understand the real, human aspects of jobs that other people are unaware of or assume just get done.
He talks about how he’s “gotten it wrong” a lot, but that getting it wrong informs the essence of what he does and how he does it. He shares the meaningful failure he encounters as an apprentice on a sheep ranch where it’s his job to castrate the lambs.
He does his research ahead of time and determines the “humane” way to perform said castrations (with a rubber band). Then he gets to the ranch, and finds the castration performed there is quite different (with a knife, and more); on the surface a more grisly method than he or we could have imagined. Let’s just say that this would make killing an actual chicken seem simple and an easy choice.
But in the process of telling the story he introduces the concept of peripateia - the sudden or unexpected reversal of circumstances or situation (remembering it from his days studying Greek classics). What a wonderful way of describing meaningful failure.
Mike’s castration dilemma is so clearly framed, his assumptions apparent (“the ‘humane’ way is the right way”) and then, through first-hand experience, not only questions that assumption, he casts it aside when he realizes the definition of “humane” needs to be questioned.
He describes in twenty minutes what some entrepreneurs I know have taken years to internalize, and he draws on some key themes I’ve explored:
- Getting it wrong is something you need to embrace, it’s what enables you to both perform better and to comprehend your purpose and goals more insightfully. It’s meaningful failure from another point of view.
- You need to know when to stop what you’re doing, and question your core assumptions. This is hard, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. When he stops what he’s doing, he demonstrates incredible integrity and purposefulness.
- Facing up to the unfamiliar, the unpleasant, is precisely what presents you with the opportunity for discovery and learning, and improving the quality of your results. This is a benefit of chicken-killing I hadn’t thought about.
But the impact of Mike Rowe’s honesty doesn’t stop there.
He has a transparent methodology (no takes, no scripts, it’s all real) that underpins the credibility of his “product”. What I loved about this anecdote is that he even had to question that foundational element of his show; he had to stop the filming because his core assumptions about the subject matter were so precarious. That takes experience and a confidence in your process and values. He didn’t rationalize, he didn’t talk about the cost of stopping production, he just did it because he knew he needed to.
Back to peripateia. That doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but what an elegant term to describe how you bring meaning to failure, from getting it wrong. and finding meaning from the doing. I want Mike Rowe on the board of the next company I fund too.